Lately I’ve really paid attention when I’ve had an “aha!” moment when talking to people. You know the kind of moment: one minute you’re having a boring conversation with a mom about the snack schedule for soccer practice---and then you happen to notice she has a Grateful Dead tattoo.
Maybe there is something about an acquaintance that really gets under your skin. They’re chronically late, but always blame it on a litany of unlikely occurrences. Or your friend frequently gets annoying songs stuck in his head and keeps singing the tunes so they’re now stuck in your head. Or your plumber has an odd take on news events that’s very different from everyone else: “Well, the reason General Motors is in so much trouble is because our military is spread all over the world trying to fix other people’s problems.” Uh…right.
How about the people who have a completely different side of them? The “Clark Kent” syndrome. One minute she’s a mild-mannered banker, then she gets off work and joins her friends to see Rocky Horror Picture Show for the 4,000th time.
When I’m with someone and they’re either really fascinating me by throwing me a complete curveball (I didn’t know they lived at a commune before they became church-going choir members!) or they’re doing something I find really annoying (you’re chewing gum? At a funeral? And blowing bubbles?) I pay attention. I write it down. Maybe I can use it to flesh out a character. Maybe I can use it to create a bit character. But these types of encounters really spotlight how different we all are from each other…and that’s worth writing about.